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Saint Stephen
Carlo Crivelli
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This half-length figure of a saint comes from a large polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) which Crivelli painted in 1476 for the high altar of the church of San Domenico, in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. This is Saint Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr.

Potato-like rocks – representing those with which he was stoned to death – balance precariously on his head and shoulders. He holds his cactus-like martyr’s palm in one hand and a bound book, representing the Gospels, in the other. For the friars of the Dominican Order who commissioned the altarpiece, Stephen was an example of preaching and teaching the faith to non-believers.

Crivelli was skilled at exploiting the optical effects of the different gold surfaces, which must have shone and flickered in the candle-light of a medieval church, with the highly burnished gold of his halo acting as a spotlight on the saint’s face.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint Stephen
Group The Demidoff Altarpiece
Date made 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 61 x 40 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.8
Location in Gallery Room 57
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The Demidoff Altarpiece

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Crivelli painted two altarpieces for the small church of San Domenico, in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Their history is complex and intertwined. A large, double-tiered polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) sat on the high altar, while a smaller altarpiece was in a side chapel.

In the nineteenth century parts of both altarpieces were sold to a Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who mounted them in a grand frame to make a three-tiered altarpiece for the chapel of his villa in Florence. The whole complex is now known as the Demidoff Altarpiece.

The National Gallery bought the Demidoff Altarpiece in 1868, and in 1961 the panels from the smaller polyptych were removed. They are now displayed separately.

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